Carolina Characters

It started with caroling. Then Christmas ‘miracle’ led to 3 Nails.

Thirteen-year-old Sophie plays bass, while 17-year-old Elody plays lead guitar. The Bensch sisters of Pawleys Island hold practice for their band, 3 Nails, Thursday, November 17, 2016 at their family's home.
Thirteen-year-old Sophie plays bass, while 17-year-old Elody plays lead guitar. The Bensch sisters of Pawleys Island hold practice for their band, 3 Nails, Thursday, November 17, 2016 at their family's home. Matt Silfer for The Sun News

The trio of sisters ran upstairs. Terrified, they hid. They were on a mission, and Elody, Sophie, and Hailey Bensch didn’t know if the person at the door would add to or take away from their vision.

They feared the worse.

Rewind. One morning, three years ago, they received gifts that helped them birth their talents.

“Technically, this was one those little Christmas miracles,” said Elody, the eldest at 17. “We didn’t have instruments or a teacher, or anything like that. Then one Christmas morning, we came downstairs and I got an electric guitar. Sophie got an electric bass, and Hailey got a drum set.”

They were presents bestowed not by a jolly, pot-bellied man in a red suit but bought by their dad, David, a residential contractor. Like their mom, April, an artist who paints, he knew his daughters had talent that needed setting free to soar high.

Now, 3 Nails – a name that references the belief by some that three nails were used to crucify Jesus – is a reality for siblings hoping to draw folks closer to God or get them to know him.

“God gave everybody a spark, and it is your choice to make it a fire or let it burn out,” said Hailey, 11.

Their flames stay high as they sing silky harmonies, rising in crescendos, moving in and out of rhythms while singing songs by a diverse mix of artists including Weezer and Meghan Trainer. The Beatles, The Monkeys, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Pink Floyd are among their numerous influences.

Their dad helps them take secular songs and puts a Christian spin on them. For example, in the song “Hallelujah,” written by Leonard Norman Cohen, the Canadian songwriter and singer who died Nov. 7, their dad changed parts of the lyrics to say, “Even if I missed his call, I’ll stand before the lord of all, with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.”

“The original song was too hopeless,’’ Elody said.

They play at churches, festivals, expos, and wherever else people invite them. They began their musical journey caroling at nursing homes and hospitals when they were practically babies.

The sick, the lonely, the shut-in, and others were and yet are moved by their voices, sincere concern, and humor. They wear wacky Christmas sweaters and hats, and basically give private, mini concerts to whoever lets them into their hospital rooms. They also give patients candy canes and quirky Santa hats.

“Every time we go out and play, we embed a Christian message into our music,” Elody said. “We try to sneak it in so it empowers them if they are Christians. If they are not, we want them to think about it.”

These words are spoken around the kitchen table in their Pawleys Island home, where the thickness of love is inevitable. Eyes can see the sisters genuinely like each other, and they admire their parents.

Yet, as we all know, business is business. And that truth does not change even for a devoted family. In other words, this band of sisters doesn’t always band together, especially in the beginning.

Elody explained.

“There were three main challenges,’’ she said. “The first one is obviously that we are sisters and we bicker. If someone did something wrong, we would turn on the other one. It was every man for himself.”

Please don’t get too judgmental, though.

We are, after all, talking about sisters who then were 13 (Elody), 10 (Sophie), and 8 (Hailey).

Another bump in the road was based on their age difference. Early in the game, Elody always learned new songs and music faster than her sisters. Thankfully, they now all quickly absorb anything related to music in a snap.

The third challenge was resolved when their dad, David Bensch, came to the rescue.

Their innate talent to sing as if one came easily, but they had to learn how to play music on their own. To solve the dilemma, at the start, they used guitar and drum kits that came with visual and audio components for instruction. The process was dreadful.

“The people on there were so annoying,” Hailey said. “It was so boring. They talked like this (her voice drags like a video in slow motion), and I almost went to sleep.”

This leads us back to the beginning of our story when they were scared and went into hiding.

One day, their dad told them he had found them a music teacher – the girls flipped out. It was six months after they have received their instruments.

Although using the kits wasn’t a perfect process, they enjoyed their organic development of learning at their own pace. Now, suddenly, their dad decided to get them a teacher they didn’t know.

Crazy notions entered their heads.

“They thought their teacher was going to be like the first nanny in ‘Mary Poppins,’’’ their mom said.

Elody didn’t want a teacher who was mean, too strict, and talked about music theories. Sophie and Hailey figured it was going to be a scary old man.

Depending on who tells the story, they met their teacher 15 minutes after their dad gave them the news. This is Hailey’s version, and she is sticking to it. Or, according to Elody, they met him in more like a week. Either way, they both agreed on the part of the story below.

Sophie came downstairs first, followed by Elody. Hailey hid for a few more seconds before gathering her courage and finally seeing what her sisters saw – Kenneth Bedwell. He had on a Pink Floyd shirt. He was young. He was nice. He is man of music at St. James High School in Murrells Inlet.

“He is amazing,” said Elody and Hailey in unison.

They adore their music teacher who plays an array of instruments and assists them in honing their talents and getting them ready for gigs.

When Bedwell came into their picture, all of their original challenges were solved. Well, almost.

“We still bicker,” Elody said.

During this interview alone, they gently reprimanded each other for cutting each other off while talking, and each gave another sister looks of silent frustration when one of them erred on minor and major details.

Still, their love for one another is always apparent and their vision remains clear.

“We want to travel the world to convince lots of people to turn to Jesus,” said Sophie, 13. “We want to bring as many people to Christ as we can.”

Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.

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